Archive > August 2009

Following Twitter

» 30 August 2009 » In NPB Tracker » 6 Comments

Some of you might be following the NPB Tracker Twitter feed. I hope you’re enjoying it. What we’re doing with the Twitter feed is posting quick updates on specific players, mostly players of note to MLB fans. We’re posting a lot of quick updates to Twitter that won’t necessarily make it here.

For those of you that don’t have Twitter accounts, you can still get the updates via this rss feed.

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World Cup Roster

» 30 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball » 17 Comments

The Japanese roster for the 38th IBAF World Cup has been announced. The schedule overlaps with the college baseball fall league, so the 24 players on the roster are all from the industrial leagues.


  • RHP Hirofumi Yamanaka (Honda Kumamoto) Video Clip
  • LHP Atsushi Tanaka (Panasonic)
  • LHP Takashi Saitoh (JR East)
  • LHP Tetsu Anan (Nippon Tsuun) Video Clip
  • RHP Rikiya Chikugawa (Honda)
  • RHP  Hirotoshi Masui (Toshiba)
  • RHP Tomohisa Ohtani (Toyota) Video Clip
  • LHP  Hiroyuki Kamekawa (Mitsubushi Jyukou-Yokohama)
  • RHP Eiichi Hirai (Fuji Jyukou)
  • RHP Motoki Higa (Hitachi Seisakusho) Video Clip


  • Ryo Saeki (Honda)
  • Kenji Suzuki (Nihon Tsuun)
  • Go Yamaoka (Shinnihon Sekiyu ENEOS)


  • Ken Kume (Mitsubishi Jyukou-Nagasaki)
  • Yoshiaki Sawamura (Nihon Tsuun)
  • Shiro Mori (Panasonic) Video Clip
  • Kentaro Miyazawa (Shinnihon Sekiyu ENEOS)
  • Tsutomu Sasaki (Mitsubushi Jyukou- Yokohama)
  • Kenichi Yokoyama (Mitsubushi Jyukou- Kobe)


  • Hisayoshi Chono (Honda) Video Clip
  • Yoshinobu Kotegawa (Honda)
  • Keiji Ikebe (Shinnihon Sekiyu ENEOS)
  • Ikuhiro Kiyota (NTT East Nippon)
  • Sho Aranami (Toyota) Video Clip

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-30

» 30 August 2009 » In Uncategorized » Comments Off on Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-30

  • Hanamaki tearfully exits Koshien; Kikuchi surrenders big hit in relief. #
  • Hideki Irabu makes his first start for Kouchi… Threw 117 pitches going 7.0 innings allowing seven hits on three earned runs. #
  • Hideki Irabu makes his first start for Kouchi… Threw 117 pitches going 7.0 innings allowing three earned runs on seven hits. #
  • Koshien final live on #
  • Wild end to Koshien final. If you missed it, check the game out here:,August-23-2009 #
  • Wild end to Koshien final. If you missed it, check the game out here: (fixed link) #
  • NPB Bullet Points: Koshien Wraps Up, Dragons Get Sick Too: Koshien wrapped up yesterday with a wild finale. If y.. #
  • Lim showing recent struggles… Walks two with bases loaded to suffer second loss and that is his second straight outing with 2ER. #
  • Kikuchi’s Future: Koshien is over, and inevitably the media has turned the spotlight back to the injured Y.. #
  • No support for Iwakuma as he throws 10 innings allowing 9H, 2ER (HR), 2BB with 10K for 149 pitches and receives a no-decision. #
  • Ni-Gun Baseball: We mentioned on twitter that Yu Darvish will have his turn in the rotation skipped to work on h.. #
  • Kikuchi Decides on Japan?: Daily Sports has comments from Yusei Kikuchi suggesting that he’s decided on be.. #
  • Homerun leader Nakamura (Seibu) taken off the roster due to soreness in left thigh. #
  • NPB Bullet Points: Brazell Becomes a Dad, KBO Offers for Bobby: Japanese Stories:

    Craig Brazell commemorated th.. #

  • Masahiro Tanaka threw eight shutout innings with 12K to earn his career-high 12th win of the season. #
  • Tsuyoshi Wada throws in a ni-gun game at Naruohama for the first time in a month and a half… (5.0IP, 3H, 2ER) #
  • 10 Foreign Player Stories: There are a couple of editions of Shukan Baseball that I look forward to each year: t.. #
  • Pitch Counts at Koshien: The response we received to my recent article about pitch counts reaffirmed to me that .. #
  • Yoshinobu Takahashi will have hip surgery as soon as early September and will hope to return fully by the 2010 season. #
  • Yu Darvish now heading to Kamagaya… #
  • Tazawa demoted; should be back when rosters expand.
    (Japanese) #
  • Attendance Rising: Although attendance is taking a hit in the States due to the economy, attendance is actually .. #
  • Ryota Igarashi taken off the roster due to injuring his hip while pitching in his 500th relief appearance. #

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Attendance Rising

» 29 August 2009 » In international baseball, npb, sports business » 8 Comments

Although attendance is taking a hit in the States due to the economy, attendance is actually going up in NPB, with both the Central and Pacific Leagues announcing numbers for the season so far. The Central League increased its overall attendance by 6.2% and the Pacific League increased its numbers by 1.7% to date, comparing year-over-year.

The biggest factor for the increase in the Central League comes from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp opening its new Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium this season, which resulted in a 48% increase in tickets purchased. On the other hand, problems on the field do not seem to be affecting fan interest in the Yokohama BayStars, with attendance up by 9.4%. For the Pacific League, the Orix Buffaloes are contributing the most to the increase, with a 7.1% rise from last year. The Seibu Lions haven’t been too shabby either, increasing their attendance by 7%. The biggest drop comes from the Chunichi Dragons in the Central League at -5.7% and Chiba Lotte Marines for the Pacific League with -5.5%.

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Pitch Counts at Koshien

» 28 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, Koshien, pitching » 3 Comments

The response we received to my recent article about pitch counts reaffirmed to me that the subject is of interest to baseball fans. To continue on the topic, I will take a look at the Koshien High School Tournament, which is known to be grueling for pitchers.

49 teams representing each prefecture (Tokyo and Hokkaido with two each) qualify for the single-elimination tournament. There was a total of 48 games in the tournament. In those 48 games, 48 complete games were thrown. Naoki Itoh from runner-up Nippon Bunri was the hardest-working pitcher this year, throwing five total complete games including the final and averaged for 131 pitches per game. In the 48 complete games thrown, pitchers averaged a total of 127.88 pitches per game.

The most grueling game of the tournament was thrown by Hayato Shoji (Tokoha Gakuen Tachibana), who already had two complete games in the books when he threw 211 pitches in a twelve inning game. Ironically, Shoji had the most efficient complete game as well, with a 98-pitch effort. The face of this year’s tournament, Yusei Kikuchi of Hanamaki Higashi, threw three complete games (124, 118, 125 pitches) and was looking for more until he started suffering from back pain.

The Koshien Tournament is always an emotional dramatic event, but is it safe for pitchers such as Shoji to be throwing that much? There are handful of promising pitchers in the Koshien Tournament who will make it to the professional stage and may develop into key players in NPB or even the majors. Even though the injury suffered by Kikuchi does not look serious, evaluating a limit on  pitch counts at a high school tournament where the top teams will play up to six games in the fifteen days should be something we should consider about thinking about the future that lies for the face of Japanese baseball.

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10 Foreign Player Stories

» 28 August 2009 » In npb » 4 Comments

There are a couple of editions of Shukan Baseball that I look forward to each year: the issue on breaking pitches, the series of issues leading up to the draft, and the mid-season issue on foreign players in Japan. I picked up foreign players issue on my last trip to Kinokuniya, and this year’s edition has a photobook of all 908 foreign players who have been on the payroll of an NPB team. Every time I get a magazine like this I learn something new, so here’s a few things from this year’s edition, plus a few of my own.

Jose’s twin Ozzie Canseco spent part of 1991 playing for Kintetsu, but never escaped the ni-gun team, where he hit .271 with eight homers.

Frank Ortenzio’s name was officially registered on Nankai’s roster in Kanji as 王天上 rather than the usual Katakana, which would have been オーテンジョウ or something similar.

Don Newcombe was a star pitcher for the Dodgers in the 1950’s, but played the outfield for Chunichi in 1962. He hit .262 with 12 home runs in 81 games. One of Newcombe’s Chunichi teammates was color-line pioneer Larry Doby.

Matt Stairs played for Chunichi way back in 1993, prior to having any MLB success.

Korean pitcher Cho Son-Min had the longest contract in NPB history, a eight-year deal with the Giants signed prior to 1996. Over the life of the contract he only appeared in 53 games, posting a 2.84 era.

Dave Nilsson played for Chunichi in 2000, so he could represent Australia in that year’s Summer Olympics. He went by “Dingo” during his brief stay in Japan.

Marty Keough played for Nankai in the 60’s; his son Matt Keough played for Hanshin in the 80’s. Now Matt’s son Shane Keough is a minor leaguer in the A’s system — possible third generation suketto?

This isn’t really notworthy, but a guy I really liked when I was living in Japan was Chang Chih-Chia from Taiwan. I thought he’d be a good pitcher for a long time, but weight and injury problems derailed his career. He was back in Taiwan last season, and even though he’s still just 29 years old it seems as though his best days as a pitcher are behind him. BR Bullpen has a chronicle of his rise and fall.

Some pretty good MLB players signed to play in Japan while the players were still striking in 1995: Shane Mack, Kevin Mitchell, Julio Franco, Darrin Jackson. Of course, Mitchell didn’t pan out, but the other guys did okay.

Alex Ramirez’s step-son, Alex jr, had been in Yakult’s farm system while sr was with the ichi-gun team. I didn’t realize that until about a week ago, jr had been with Kochi of the independent Island League.

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NPB Bullet Points: Brazell Becomes a Dad, KBO Offers for Bobby

» 26 August 2009 » In kbo, npb » 8 Comments

Japanese Stories:

  • Craig Brazell commemorated the birth of his son, Trot, with two home runs in Hanshin’s 9-3 win over Yokohama. Congratulations to the Brazell family!
  • Lotte reportedly has some interest in bringing Julio Zuleta back to Japan. Why? Good question — he wasn’t effective his last few years in Japan, and he got himself released from his Mexican League team early in the season. Lotte team management says he would have to pass a tryout get a contract.
  • Chris Aguila is headed back to the States at the end of the month and is almost certainly done with SoftBank. He only managed to hit .095 and hasn’t played at ichi-gun since May.
  • Yomiuri is considering sending pitcher Norihito Kaneto among others to the Arizona Fall League this year. The team sent a couple of guys to play in the Dominican last winter.
  • “Shaggy” Shugo Fujii has qualified for domestic free agency.
  • It was a “draw”: Hisahi Iwakuma threw 149 pitches over 10 innings on August 25, but Hideaki Wakui threw 162 over nine. Neither pitcher figured in the decision, which Seibu took in a walk-off in the 11th. The winning Lions stormed the field, Taketoshi Gotoh wearing a mask that is supposed to resemble Barrack Obama.
  • Javelin thrower Yukifumi Murakami is reportedly getting a little attention from NPB teams as a pitcher. He supposedly hit 152 kmph (95mph) on the gun in college but maxed out at 142 kmph (87mph) in a recent speed gun competition.

English Stories:

  • Gen passes along a Sponichi report saying that Bobby Valentine is getting offers to manage in Korea.
  • You know those ESPN commercials that make Buster Olney look like an undercover operative or something? It took me two or three times to figure out what he’s supposed to be saying on the phone in Japanese. It’s “Ichiro! My favorite outfielder!” (“Ichiro! Boku no sukina gaiyashu!”).
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Kikuchi Decides on Japan?

» 25 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, mlb prospects, npb draft » 1 Comment

Daily Sports has comments from Yusei Kikuchi suggesting that he’s decided on beginning his pro career in Japan: “It’ll be after I consult with my parents and manager, but I’m thinking domestic. In the future I think I’ll go to the Majors if I can, but after building my strength domestically.”

There were some hints on Kikuchi’s direction in yesterday’s news, but it seemed like observers basically took his comments and interpreted what the wanted to hear (Gen comments on this as well). If this most recent revelation is true, I think it’s the right choice for Kikuchi. I’ll go into once the story is confirmed.

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Ni-Gun Baseball

» 25 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, international baseball, npb » 12 Comments

We mentioned on twitter that Yu Darvish will have his turn in the rotation skipped to work on his form in Nippon Ham’s ni-gun practice facility, so in this post I will address how the ni-gun is structured in Japanese baseball. In the NPB, there is no Triple-A, Double-A, or Single-A; there is the ni-gun, meaning “second troop”. The top level, major league-equivalent teams are known as ichi-gun or “first troop”.

Two leagues exist in the NPB minor league system: the Eastern and the Western Leagues. The statistics and schedule are available in Japan here. Here are some details of the two leagues:

The Eastern League (Operated by the Central League)

  • Composed of seven ni-gun teams: the Lotte Marines, BayStars, Giants, Fighters, Swallows, Lions and the Golden Eagles
  • The league started in 1955 as the “Shin Nippon League” with the concept of NPB teams developing their young players
  • The league was not able to continue due to financial reasons, but started back up again in 1961 with five teams, and added the Lions in 1979 and the Golden Eagles in 2005

The Western League (Operated by the Pacific League)

  • Five ni-gun teams: the Dragons, Tigers, Buffaloes, Carp, and the Hawks
  • The league was founded in 1952 as the “Kansai Farm League” with seven teams not affiliated with the NPB
  • With teams leaving for the “Shin Nippon League,” the Western League turned to the NPB and reorganized as a minor league system for the then-14 teams in the NPB and seven teams would be part of the Western League
  • The Western League lost the Lions due to the NPB team moving to Saitama and the merger of Buffaloes and Blue Wave led to the league contracting to five teams from 2005

With both leagues operating with an odd number of teams, the team with no game scheduled often plays against amateur industrial league teams belonging to the JABA (Japanese Amateur Baseball Association). Although the existence of these ni-gun teams are similar to minor leagues from a player development standpoint, the business behind the operations of these teams is completely different from the world of US minor league baseball.

Even though Minor League Baseball teams here in the States are affiliated with a MLB team they operate business as independent organizations. Minor League ball clubs has their own websites, stadiums, and in most cases their hometowns. However, the ni-gun differs in many ways compared to the operations of a minor league team as they usually do not operate independently and are run as more of a practice and development facility for the NPB teams. The only team name differing from its affiliated ball club is the Shonan Shirex and they don’t even have their own website.  A scene of announcing the starting lineup at the ballpark can be seen here and it is quite a bit different from an atmosphere you may be able to experience at a minor league game. Even though the Nippon Ham Fighters’ ni-gun team, playing at Kamagaya Stadium, is attempting to operate like a minor league ball club with promotions and events in a “Minor League” style, those types of ni-gun teams are still rare.

With only twelve teams at the professional level in NPB, there are few opportunities for players to make a living by just playing baseball. Teams are making efforts to provide playing time for young players like the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Yomiuri Giants working together forming a new team called Sirius for ikusei players and younger players to get game experience. However, with teams being limited in their roster spots and the future looking certain that there will not be a new team joining NPB anytime soon, independent leagues and ni-gun teams operating independently is one possible area of growth for professional baseball in Japan. If the number of professional teams increases in Japan outside of NPB, more players will have the opportunity to play at a higher level and the game will grow popularity around the country. Will the new development of independent leagues impact the state of professional baseball in Japan, and will ni-gun baseball begin evolving into a business of its own?

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Kikuchi’s Future

» 25 August 2009 » In amateur baseball, mlb prospects » 1 Comment

Koshien is over, and inevitably the media has turned the spotlight back to the injured Yusei Kikuchi, overshadowing the fantastic finale of the tournament.

Kikuchi has already commented on his future, but before we get to that, let’s take a glimpse into the world of the Japanese media. Check out the contrast between these two headlines, both featured prominently on Yahoo! Japan Sports:

Sports Hochi: “Hanamaki Higashi’s Yu Kikuchi Will First be a Star in Japan! ‘There Are Things Left to Do’.” (花巻東・菊池雄、まず日本の星になる!「やり残したものある」)

Sanspo: “A Japan-US Battle! Hanamaki Higashi’s Kikuchi Wants to go to The Majors” (日米争奪戦!花巻東・菊池、メジャー行きたい)

These two publications have distilled out very different headlines from roughly the same content. Sports Hochi is owned by the Yomiuri media conglomerate, the same corporation that operates the Yomiuri Giants, one of the NPB teams that has been after Kikuchi’s services. So they have a vested interest in a headline like that. Sanspo, on the other hand, is somewhat prone to sensationalism.

With that, let’s look at what Kikuchi actually said.

As quoted in Hochi: “if possible, I feel like I want to go (to the Majors) soon. But to go right away is a big risk. I could build a solid foundation in Japan. But it’s something I’ll consult with my manager and parents on and decide…”

Sanspo has the same statement, but followed by “I kind of think I’d like to become a poster boy for high school baseball. Tazawa-san’s self-belief is amazing.” Sanspo also adds, “I know that I’ve been regarded (by big league teams). I want to study the draft system. If I go to the US (now), it will be a problem when I come back to Japan. I want to study that area.”

And the last quote I’ll translate is this one from Hochi: “I finished high school baseball with an injury. It feels like I have unfinished business in in Japan.”

Both articles agree that Kikuchi will decide what to do in about a week’s time.

Meanwhile, Draft Reports compiled some data indicated that Kikuchi appears as a first-round pick candidate for every NPB team except the Giants, who remain locked in on Hisayoshi Chono. I’m not sure I buy that, Kikuchi is clearly a better prospect than Chono. Kikuchi has gotten attention from reportedly more than eight MLB teams, including the Cubs, Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Braves, and Mets, with reports calling the Dodgers and the Mets the most interested.

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